South Texas in Line for Border Patrol Technology

By Stew Magnuson
The southwest border in Texas will start to receive some of the new sensor technologies that have heretofore been deployed solely in Arizona.

“They ask me all the time. When are we going to get our stuff?” Michael J. Fisher, chief of the Border Patrol, said of the agency’s officers in Texas.

The initiative to field new fixed and mobile sensor platforms, called the Arizona surveillance technology plan, is — as the name suggests — reserved for that state. That followed the now canceled SBInet program, which set up high-tech cameras and radars in two areas of Arizona.

The reason why Arizona has been the focus of all these technology programs over the last decade is simple, Fisher said at the Border Technology Expo in Phoenix. It was the most vulnerable area with the most illegal traffic.

“Arizona, for a number of years, probably 10 to 12 years, was the area that was the most exploited along the southwest border. That only changed about the middle of last year in terms of activity,” he said.

The Tucson sector is no longer the most active region, he said.

Mark Borkowski, assistant Customs and Border Protection commissioner at the office of technology, innovation and acquisition, said one item that will be headed to Texas next year is the mobile surveillance system capability, a suite of sensors mounted on a vehicle that can be quickly deployed, and then driven to a new location.

Thirty-three of the vehicles have been sent to the field so far, with an additional 16 scheduled for delivery by the end of calendar year 2015. When those are delivered, it will free some of them up to be sent to Texas, he said.

“They are going to Arizona because they work really great in Arizona. Arizona has some systems that will be really useful in Texas,” Borkowski said.

A new mobile video surveillance system, which relies on day/night cameras rather than radar, is also slated for Texas. The contract award has been slow in coming because requirements were rewritten with the Lone Star state in mind, he said. Cameras work better in urban environments, which have too much clutter for radars. Radars are more suitable in remote, desert areas where any kind of movement may mean an incursion.

Fisher said it would be a mistake to apply a one-size-fits-all model and simply transfer a technology from one region to another.

“One camera may be great in a place like Nogales, Arizona. It may be worthless in a place like the Rio Grande Valley because the terrain really dictates the type of technology to do that mission,” Fisher said.

Borkowski noted that the Rio Grande Valley was also the testbed for three aerostats on loan from the Defense Department. Originally designed for perimeter defense in the Southwest Asia wars, they have been used to monitor the border.

The Border Patrol used them in Texas until April. A decision was pending on whether the program would continue.

“DoD systems are very expensive. So even if I get them for free in terms of acquisition costs, which is buying the hardware itself, they tend not to be free to operate,” Borkowski said.

They cost about $1 million per month to deploy, he said.

He has told Defense Department officials that if any of the aerostats are declared surplus, he might be interested, but the operational costs are a factor.

“We have to think about under what circumstances is that investment worthwhile,” he said.

Topics: Homeland Security, Border Security, Science and Technology, Science and Engineering Technology, Homeland Security

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